When one of your hospitals discharges a patient, how easy do you make it for them to take their drugs as prescribed? Your health system can make it seamless鈥攁nd improve their medication adherence in the process鈥攚ith automated compliance packaging from a central fill facility.

Let me explain how automated compliance packaging works and how it can benefit your patients and your health system. I鈥檒l also tell you how to set up a compliance packaging program and what to look for in a central fill partner.

How compliance packaging works

Compliance packaging, also known as adherence packaging, means that you put all the drugs a patient takes in one package鈥攅ither blister packs or pouches鈥攖o help them be adherent to their drug regimen. You organize the drugs by dose, days of the week and time of day that the patient takes them. That makes it easier for the patient to take the right drugs at the right time.

Most health systems don鈥檛 do compliance packaging. Some do it manually or in a semi-automated fashion on a limited basis. But there are a few health systems that have embraced full automation of compliance packaging by themselves or by outsourcing the process to a vendor鈥檚 central fill facility.

Doing it yourself manually and on a limited basis comes with disadvantages for your health system:

  • Clinical. Any time you do something manually, it鈥檚 more error-prone. In this case, you鈥檙e asking pharmacists or technicians to count and organize different pills and put them in blister packs or pouches by hand. That can lead to inaccurate pill counts and doses for patients.
  • Operational. Counting and organizing pills and putting them in packs or pouches by hand is labor intensive. That takes up a lot of your pharmacists鈥 and technicians鈥 time鈥攖ime that they could be spending on direct patient care.
  • Financial. Pharmacists and technicians are not cheap labor. Paying them to put pills in packages probably isn鈥檛 the best use of your payroll dollars. It鈥檚 better to pay them for direct patient care or other revenue-generating services for your health system.

You should think of it as parts and labor, or time and materials. More parts and more materials mean more labor and more time. There is a better way that produces a better outcome for your patients and for your health system.

Benefits for patients and payers

As you know, hospitals and health systems are under pressure to create more value for patients and payers. Compliance packaging can help with this through increased adherence, which boosts patient outcomes. Here are five ways compliance packaging drives adherence:

  • Makes it easier for patients to get all their drugs in a single container rather than in multiple bottles and packages
  • Allows patients to get their drugs before discharge at your outpatient pharmacy or even have them delivered right to their home
  • Makes it easier for patients to take the right drugs at the right time instead of having to remember all those things when they鈥檙e sick
  • Creates a seamless continuum of care by improving coordination between prescribers and pharmacists, eliminating gaps in care that can worsen health outcomes
  • Results in a better patient experience that drives engagement and better health outcomes

Better adherence and outcomes translate into less expensive care. The cost savings come from fewer doctor visits, trips to the emergency department and hospital readmissions. That, in turn, makes payers happy. Better outcomes at less cost.

Benefits for your health system

Creating more value for patients and payers goes hand in hand with creating more value for your own health system. The benefits that flow to you from automating compliance packaging fall in two buckets that mimic your balance sheet鈥攔evenue and expenses.

Higher revenue comes from:

  • Patient loyalty. Patients who have a good experience with compliance packaging at one of your hospitals will be more likely to go back when they need care in the future.
  • Drug refills. Patients have more choices of where to get their prescriptions refilled, including new market entrants into the pharmacy business. Patients will be more likely to get them refilled at your hospital because of the convenience of compliance packaging.
  • Staff time. Pharmacists and technicians who don鈥檛 spend their time doing compliance packaging by hand have more time to spend on revenue-generating activities like patient counseling.

Lower expenses come from:

  • Penalties. Value-based reimbursement models penalize you for things like higher than expected readmission rates and lower than expected patient satisfaction scores. Compliance packaging can help reduce both of these risks.
  • Inventory. Compliance packaging from a central fill site can cut your inventory costs by having the drugs you need at one site rather than sitting on shelves unused at various sites within your health system.
  • Volume. Doing compliance packaging by hand is costly. Automating it through a central fill site lowers your cost per package and allows you to scale your compliance packaging as your health system expands.

Higher revenue and lower expenses add up to better business results for your health system.

Building a compliance packaging program

If your health system wants to set up an automated compliance packaging program with a central fill site, here are the steps that you need to take.

  • Medication synchronization. You need a med sync program to be able to align all of a patient鈥檚 drug fills and refills for the same day each month. That鈥檚 a prerequisite for getting all the drugs a patient takes organized for compliance packaging.
  • Pharmacy management system. Your PMS needs to allow your pharmacists and technicians to put all that information about drugs and dosing in one place and organize it by days of the week and times of the day. Not all systems have that capability.
  • Electronic interface. After your PMS organizes all that data, it needs an electronic interface to send that information over to the central fill site, which has a corresponding interface, so the site knows what medications to put in the adherence packaging in the right amounts for the time frame.
  • Delivery options. Patients鈥 service expectations are higher than ever before. You need to be able to customize dispenses. Some patients want to pick it up at your outpatient pharmacy. Others want their packages delivered directly to them at home at a specific time.
  • Staff training. Staff at your health system will need to be trained and then become proficient at doing the other steps in order to reap all the benefits that compliance packaging offers patients, payers and your organization.

Selecting a compliance packaging partner

If your health system decides to automate compliance packaging through a central fill site, you should make sure that your vendor offers the following capabilities:

  • Access to drugs. The point is to put everything in one place to drive adherence. If some drugs are in compliance packaging and others aren鈥檛, you鈥檙e not addressing the problem.
  • Over-the-counter medications. A lot of patients use OTC meds in addition to their prescription meds. Your partner should have access to the OTC meds that your patients use so it can add them to the adherence packaging.
  • Packaging options. Not all patients like the same compliance packs. Your partner must be able to customize compliance packaging based on patient preferences. Eliminate any reason that a patient may not be adherent to their drug treatment plan.

Given the clinical benefits for patients and the business benefits for health systems, I think that most health systems will be doing compliance packaging by themselves or through a third party within the next five years. Will your system be one of them?

Related: Learn more McKesson鈥檚 customized pharmacy automation solutions for health systems

Melanie Christie

About the author

Melanie Christie is vice president of product management and engineering for McKesson High Volume Solutions.聽In her current role, Melanie is responsible for product strategy, engineering, analytics and strategic partnerships for all products within McKesson High Volume Solutions. Melanie has been with McKesson for more than 14 years, focusing on pharmacy and healthcare technology product development and strategy. She earned her BS in Computer Science and Communications from Allegheny College and her Masters of Business Administration from Waynesburg University.

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